Rival Jihadists Clash in Northwestern Syria

First Major Fighting Between Groups Since February

The Idlib Province in northwestern Syria is materially the whole territory of several large rebel groups in the country at this point, with a lot of Islamist factions setting up shop there and forming various umbrella organizations. Though ideologically similar, these groups often have conflicting interests, and have fought intermittently.

That’s happening again this weekend, with significant clashes breaking out between al-Qaeda’s umbrella group, Tahrir al-Sham, and rival jihadist faction Ahrar al-Sham. The two factions were locked in heavy fighting around the start of the year, but had a ceasefire reached in February which had calmed things significantly.

It’s not a shock this fighting erupted. Al-Qaeda has been sending its fighters around over the past couple of weeks arresting “plotters,” many of whom are members of rival factions, and late last week a suicide car bomber targeted an al-Qaeda base in the area, killing 12.

Given the sheer number of rebels in Idlib, the province of choice for basically all voluntary evacuations across the country, such fighting could rapidly get out of control, turning into a huge battle over a very limited amount of space. The Syrian government controls most of the area surrounding Idlib, except for some of northern Aleppo which is held by Kurdish YPG forces at Afrin.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.